Microsoft recently announced that it has reached a deal to acquire touch screen manufacturer Perceptive Pixel. Microsoft has made integrated support for multitouch a key point in discussing Windows 8, which it plans to release in late 2012, and believes that bringing a touch screen manufacturer into its Office Division will help it access markets like conference rooms. Perceptive Pixel specializes in producing large-area projected capacitive multitouch screens that measure up to 82 inches. At the time of the announcement, its 82-inch touchscreen displays cost $80,000.
While Microsoft has enjoyed long-standing dominance in operating system software and strong success in gaming consoles, its forays into consumer electronics, like the Zune MP3 player and the Windows Phone operating system, have seen limited market penetration. Its other attempt at a large touchscreen device, the PixelSense tablet, has been held back for years by a high price tag ($8,400 as of June 2012), and Perceptive Pixel’s screens will clearly need to drop dramatically in cost to allow broad market penetration.
While the software giant is correct that the multitouch device market will continue to grow, capacitive touch is an expensive technology to achieve large-area screens. Other approaches are much more economical for many mainstream uses: For example, Tactonic (Client registration required) offers a technology that could enable lower-cost large-area devices because of its modular construction and optical sensor developer isiQiri (Client registration required) claims to have $140 sensors for 55-inch diagonal televisions. Don’t expect large capacitive touch screens to storm the market – but note that Microsoft is more likely interested in exploiting its new partner’s software and user interface concepts, like its storyboard and application programming interface (API) offerings.